This is a report from a trip I had planned around the CM bike week. I love getting up and riding around the great roads in the North, and when I get away, I like to stay away for a while - as it takes a day to get out of and back into Bangkok anyway. It's always great to catch up with good riding friends and for some reason there's just something different about the Northern provinces, the lifestyle, the pace, the lack of traffic and selfishness that is all too common in the city - I guess it's similar in many countries. It really reminds me of some of the countryside we get in parts of Australia - and some of the roads I encountered on this trip could have easily been in rural Australia. A quick hello to all the folk and friends I met along the way - both old and new, and hopefully we can meet again in the near future...Cheers and Merry Christmas to everyone! DAY 1-3 Day 1 6am planned meeting at Laksi Plaza, Rangsit for a 6.30 departure. We get there at 6.15 – to find most people half-way through, or just ordering their American breakfasts. Big group – around a dozen or so bikes. I can tell we won’t leave on time. Getting anxious to get the hell out of town –finally we get away around 6.50, and eager to make good time, we punch ahead – I eventually find my self removed from the main group due to a traffic snarl, and thinking I’m behind, pin it up the number 1. I realize I must in fact be in front, and pull off to the side of the junction of the number 1 with the number 21. Wait 10 minutes and then see the group carry on past into Saraburi – missing the exit onto the 21 – so I just continue on along the 21. Eventually stop for fuel and a coffee – then see the group blast past. Kit up, pin it and catch the group about 25 k up the road – Harley’s doing around 125- 135km/h. Good speed. No Ducati or sports bikes – they’d nipped past while I was having a piss, and later reported that they saw a red flash go past – me, chasing the Harley group. I go to Khoa Kho, collect my watch, admire the MILF at the bungalows, then get a real time message – my mate is about 16 k along the 12 towards Phitsanolok – the way I plan to go to Loei – so I punch out, and finally meet for a coffee and a chat at a rest stop between where the Khao Kho road enters the 12, and the junction with the 21. We go our separate ways, and I head up the 203 a short distance before getting onto the 2216 and then the 2016 towards Loei. These are rollicking good roads – reminding me of country roads in Australia – with Phu Kradeung’s menacing shape off to the east, I enjoy some real riding – and start to hear and appreciate the growl of the new exhaust note, the twisties and the rolling hills. Check in to the King’s, couple of beers, feel dizzy/aka drunk – no real food all day, and head off to my favourite local restaurant, have a good chat with the owner, play groupie with the hot singers – and her younger sister – have one or two more beers than planned, and back to hotel for a lateish night – and an anticipated hangover. Day 2 Mission today is get to Chiang Mai. The expected hangover does in fact happen – albeit rather mildly. I take the always fun 203 road across and through Phu Reua, have a coffee, and get onto some more of Loei and Phitsanolok's rollicking country roads. The 2013 and 1143 are both great country roads, nicely undulating and quite fast, open stuff. I start to see a few bikes as I get onto the 11 highway – through Uttaradit and towards Lampang. The road works along there is not too bad, a bit dusty here and there, but better than a few months back. I finally get into the services centre at Khun Tan – meet John on his S1000RR, have a quick bite – a few Harley’s there – and then a group consisting of the odd Trumpet or two arrives. Coffee and a chocky snack and we punch along the final leg into Chiang Mai. It’s fun following John on his Beemer – silent but deadly – fun coaxing the ponies out of the MTS, riding the torque band, short shifting to keep her grunting after the superbike – we have a good fast run into the outskirts of town and eventually rock up to John’s place for a few Whiskies, some Tequila shots and a plate of Nachos.. Then into town, check in at the Panerai, meet up with Dunder, and the three of us walk and Tuk-Tuk it to the bike event venue. Very different environment than previous year – more exclusive – but Friday night is good – lot’s of nice people, great food courtesy of Dukes and Euro Diner, cold beers, dancing cowgirls, some cool little stalls selling stuff and just good to have a few beers, schnits and giggles with mates. Bit of mayhem, but not too much. Enjoy a bit of a stroll around with West, John and Dunder. We are near the night market after all – and not all stalls are closed… Day 3
Shake off a bit of a hang over and go to X Centre for a Burger and spruce up bike. Thanks Ian . Plan is to meet West, John and Johan and do the Sam loop. There’s a bit of traffic. It’s a popular route. We see plenty of bikes on it – and cars too. It’s such a nice loop so close to town. If only we had something like this close to Bangkok. We can only dream I suppose... Stop for coffee at the view point. Have a local heart starter and bit of a rest. John heads off back the other way, and West, Johan and I head back to town check out a tire for Johan. Spruce up and off to bike show. Which is a bit like a conference – complete with conference or gala dinner style dining tables, which seat around 6 – 8 people. Big buffet. But there was also the open area – which had the usual style fast foods, beers etc. There we meet Johnny G (connoiseur of Beemers), Tukta (spectacular fingernail making genius), Ann (Barista extraordinaire), Ron (ex-Ad-man and guru CEO) and his lovely wife. Hatch a plan to head to Thoed Thai next day. Just north of Mae Schlong. There's a festival on there.
The Shan New Year – hill tribe culture – and a decent ride up to boot. I’d planned to head up that way – the Mae Salong loop – Doi Tung etc – so it seems like a great plan. Fairly early night, getting ready for a good day tomorrow. DAY 4-6 Day 4
Meet 9am at The Kafe. The ladies on their K650 bikes John on his little F800GS. We scoff a quick feed of porky rice soup, go check air get fuel and head north on 107 Bit o traffic getting out, but good road after. I punch on when it gets twisty, then stop for a leak – see the posse go past and think I will catch them in no time – little did I know they pulled off at the junction a kay up the road for fuel and a comfort break. So I chase ghosts for 45 mins, then decide that I must be ahead, wait at a police junction and meet up again. At this stop, we meet up with Neil and his group – riding back the other way – and they will then head west – back via Pai and MHS etc. A nice coincidence. The lads looking well-tuned on their machines - Neil's black beauty looking good in touring set-up. (yes, I need better luggage). :-[ We stop for lunch at the river just north of Mai Ai – Ta Ton - huge fried rice and other assortments. Then again at Mae Salong Great coffee and cakes at Sweet Mae Schlong. And John teaches the importance of parking in gear... We get into Thoed Thai around 3 ish. Do a little exploring – up a dirt road past Khun Sa’s old camp – more a misadventure than anything else, the bikes get dusty - and fingernails gets cranky (just a little ) – check out the festival location, then spruce up and head up the road to meet the others at their guesthouse closer to the action. Lots of beers, some sort of random sausage snacks and overall a great night in Thoed Thai. Meet Rod his delightful and adventurous wife. David U is there with HGL, also Jay, Rex and Ron and his marvelous Karaoke-princess wife. Robert also arrives and one or two others that I may have forgotten – sorry about that. Go to festival/fair, feeling like giants among the locals, they do breed them close to the ground up here – someone said it’s so they don’t topple off the mountains while farming…A few games which had been rigged to prevent anyone winning (it could have been the beers I guess, but I wasn’t the only one having trouble) – a nibble of Squid – which I think winked at me before consumption when I remarked that he was a strong swimmer to make it this far North up stream. They farm them in the rivers, don’t they? And then off to bed. Woken at all hours by a cacophony of Roosters – we’d been warned by the group that there might be some foul play at the place we were staying at – and it turned out to be all too true. Day 5
Breakfast and more porky rice soup. John and the ladies heading back to CM – so we go to Sweet Mae Salong for coffee on the way. Joined by Rod and his wife (who had an interesting tale to tell about a certain downhill corner, a gear too tall and a spirit house with a view) and Jay. Soon after, I head to Doi Tung up the 1338. Twisty ride. Narrow in parts. Amazing scenery. Stop for noodles and Coke at the Royal Gardens. Hit the next bit. Superb amazing road. Too short (only about 7 kms) but very, very good. Head on towards the 1334 and Down the steep twisty descent to Mae sai. Quick look around. Blast back to Mae salong along the 1 and the 1130 to meet my BKK riding friend who'd come up from cm. Back to Thoed Thai. Festival again. Some more friends of friends arrive from Singapore. Great meal. Walk around. Good company, great chats. Few frosty beers. Some carry-on-Karryoke. Ponder the route for the day ahead. Day 6 Good sleep. No chickens. Only awoken by the cannon-like blasts of the Shan new year. Walk to morning market with Ron and David. Morning coffee and then back for more Porky Rice porridge. I loiter around and visit Khun Sa's camp with Jay. K Sa’s the opium warlord who was featured as a character in American gangster. Fascinating. Ride back over towards the Golden Triangle again via Doi Tung. That road is sick, sick, sick. Both ways. Stark contrast to the dusty and terrible road into Chiang Saen and the Golden Triangle area. I bet I’m not the only one that hopes whatever contruction is going on around there is over ASAP. It’s been going on for over a year now though…. Tour of the Hall of Opium. Highly recommended. Thanks for the tips on that one Rod. Spend 2 hours there easily. Back to check into the Golden Home guest house, and then nip up the hill for some last-light snaps. Great rooms at the guest house. Dinner at Siwan restaurant on the river. Big day to Nan tmrw. Gear is now as dusty as @#$%. DAY 7-8 Day 7 Golden Triangle to Nan. Early morning – quick wash of the MTS and she’s looking good again – as she should – Italian style and performance and all that - there’s nothing like a blazing red MTS in the early morning sunshine. Brisk walk along the river front, I gaze across the body of water across to Laos and Burma and wonder what the other half are doing…no wait, scratch that. I don’t really know what I’m looking at – and as it is the GT after all, shouldn’t I really be wondering what the other 66 2/3 are doing right now…??? Another quick bowl of porky rice soup – I head back, pack and bail to the rendezvous point. About 30 mins down the road for me – Doi Luang, and about an hour for my mate who’s joining from Thoed Thai – we plan to meet at 9am – which is really too late to be leaving to Nan from here, and that will play out later. My mission is to get us into Nan- and in style – entering from the North – through Pua, then up to the Pukkha mountain – across to Bo Khleua, down the 1081, and further south to “the road Jesus built”, before heading back north and into Nan town for the evening. That’s a lot of twisty stuff and we also wanted to include a new road posted on the GT rider site – 1155 – that is allegedly very good. The roads heading south are Ok – and we use the 1098, the 1020 and then the 1155 roads. – but as we get to turn onto the 1155 linking road – I realize that this is going up towards Phu Chi Fah – a road that we possibly hit around this time a year ago. Anyway, the road up is a bit rough and patchy to the look out spot – then improves going down – and has some of the most ridiculous switchbacks I’ve ever encountered. The road is truly spectacular – a nice touring road – but I would not say it’s a great sporting road . Too tight. Good for touring, not great for riding. And we have miles to cover and roses to sniff before the real awesome stuff begins at the top of Nan. We take a great linking road across to Nan – the 1021 and the 1148 – just a lovely rollicking run – jeez I love that word, and the feeling that goes with it – and we carry on at a rushed pace into Pua. Mate is getting hungry, and wants to stop – but I know we need to press on lest we miss hitting any of the roads we really must hit. So I push us on up into the mountains via the 1256 to the Chomphu Pukka look-out and we finally sample a deserved bowl of noodles, before we crack the whip and press on towards Bo Khleua and beyond, onto the 1081. …which is OK to start with, but has all but gone to shit now – as the trucks that built it in the first place are still using it to cart up and mostly spill gravel all over the place – which quickly attenuates the pace – and light is starting to fade quickly. We stop and change visors. A prudent move. I realize at this point that we will not make it to “the road Jesus built”, and we will have to make do with this and the final 1069 run into Nan. Which in itself is a great road, but again, throws up the Ruam Mit offerings of gravel, dirt mud. And then it’s time for the nightly bug sacrifice as they mercilessly throw themselves all over the Multi – trying to get a closer look, but only seeing their own arses as they flash before their eyes. It’s dark when we hit town. Nan Guest house is almost full – and we only have the poverty rooms available – but at 200 baht for a clean, comfy room (shared facilities at that price) – and the welcoming female hostesses, who can complain? And who would you complain to? A nerve settling ale, then off to Da Dario’s for the best beef salad around, a Heineken or two and a bit of a walk around before retiring. Big day tomorrow. The ladies sell us on the breakfast, and we plan to meet at 7am sharp for brekky and early getaway…. Day 8 Grueling. Late start and 600k and many sights to see along the way. A real mixed grill of roads, weather traffic and general conditions. We talk of 4 Seasons in a day. This is as close to that as I've had in Thailand. Both weather wise and culturally. Hill tribes to Hi-so. Valleys to 2k above. Awesome black top to mud, gravel and bad cement. Full American breakfast, fresh brewed coffee and home made bread… to shrimp balls and a Coke in a hill tribe village while would be suitors throw balls for the girls to catch. …while a dog makes off with something that looks like a pork trotter from Tawandaeng… … this little piggy is a long way from home. Behind the 8 ball for the day I wrestle with my emotions and accept my Jedi cultural calling to smell the roses whilst holding the hammer-down demons at bay. The stints between stops are “make-up” time and the Multi is definitely the sharpest tool in the box. With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, her Italian good looks turns heads wherever she goes My route takes me down the 101 to Uttaradit, where I branch off down the 1143 (again) to Chat trakan and Nakhon Thai – then a brief stop and onto the 2331 into Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park. The road is in good repair, and the weather is remarkably cool. Nay, cold. I didn’t realize how much the park actually has on offer and will definitely be back - and soon. The lookout point is a well populated zone of holiday makers – not many bikes around – and downright crisp. My knuckles hurt. Down the twisty other side and I’m pleased once it starts to warm up again. The last 200 from Lomsak to Khon Kaen is frenetic. I know I'm gonna be pushing to make it to town by dark. It's 4.05 when I get onto the 12. The Nam Nao bit is good and fast. But I've had so much good by now that it's not really as good as I remember and is a bit busy. Bugs soon appear and I’m busting for a piss. Brief stop to unload a gallon and back on it. Traffic and road work near Chumpae. Slow going, muddy and dusty. A truly shitty bit of road. That ruined the chance to get there by dark then. Throw in some freshly laid and watered mud and it's happy days. Not. Finally get to the hotel around 6.15. Covered in bugs. Darker than Khamal ... And tired. Check into the Kosa, clean up, and head to the beer garden for a nice Porky BBQ and a few Tigers…tired, hungry and blissed out…the KK spell starts to take hold… EPILOGUE …What is my Motivation? This is something that came up while I was in CM – while or after riding a few of the same roads I have ridden before. So I ask myself – what am I doing, and why am I doing it – am I simply doing “mindless riding”??? “YES” – goes a small chorus of table guests – as I happened to ask the question out loud. Now, a lot of these guys live up north – and have other things going on in between 3 and 4 or more day rides, in and around all the great riding districts in the north. Living close to where the real riding is – and are “on it” within a few miles of setting out really. So why is it that a surfer by trade – who would normally be “mindlessly surfing” in Bali or somewhere similar – gets 10 days away on his MTS to tour some of the best roads Thailand has to offer – and finds himself asking this question??? What’s the purpose of my trip? Do I need one? Where’s the enjoyment? Is it bloody mindedness? Is it because I can? Am I missing something, and if so what is it? For me, the most enjoyable parts of this tour were when I had a purpose or some goal in mind – also when riding with others who had a similar goal/purpose in mind. – and having also enough time to enjoy the company, experience the destinations – look around a bit, explore – enjoy the journey as much as reaching the destination itself. While most days had a goal in mind, some of them either started too late – or had too many miles to cover to really make getting there as enjoyable as it could have or should have been. Remember – my trip was over a week long – so the “riding fix” was dealt, consumed and overdosed on after about 4 or 5 days in. So – then I feel I am missing the cultural or experiential aspect of it. I need to take more control over my destiny – I need to do more research, better planning. It’s not like I’m in a car – where I can browse a tour book while driving one handed, scoffing some crisps and guzzling a can of Coke along the way. I need to be PREPARED godammit!!! Something to look for besides the numbers of the roads, the apexes and the other hazards…I think it makes it more meaningful. Less riding , more appreciation. More quality, less quantity. There’s certainly some places I could have spent longer at. Isn’t that what’s it’s all about? The journey, not the destination? Stuff the bugs, the late starts, the end result. Just getting there is not enough. Give me more toothless, beetlenut eating, chromosome bereft, giggle pots. More fishballs, hobbits and trees with funny names. Less numbers more names. Well, ok then…..just a few numbers.